How to Succeed at NaNo Without Really Trying

Over at Slate, June Thomas discusses how to reach the magical 50,000 word minimum for NaNo success.  She cites Chris Baty, the founder of NaNoWriMo, who gives the following techniques for padding the word count.

His strategies include giving a character a stutter (to expand “the girth of their dialogue”), temporary deafness(“necessitating that everything said to him or her be repeated”), and a fondness for quotation(“Give your protagonist a copy of Beowulf and an annoying habit of reading poetry out loud on their long commute to work”).

In addition, Thomas adds a few of her own.

I have some additional suggestions: amnesia (if one or more characters forgets everything that has happened in the narrative thus far, it’s only polite to remind them—at length), flashbacks (either to events before the action of the novel began or just a couple of chapters back), recollections (of a character’s earliest childhood memories or just about anything else apropos of nothing), lists (you don’t have to stick to a character’s favorite books, music, movies; why not list every friend they ever had?), and recipes (if someone is preparing a meal, don’t stint on the details—how hot should that oven be?).

I’ve got a few too: meta-fiction (after each sentence, write a paragraph explained what you are trying to accomplish and/or  include commentary on how you felt, as a novelist, writing the aforementioned sentence), spot the change (copy and paste each chapter, so there are two chapter ones, two chapter twos, etc, but make a few nominal changes and challenge the reader to spot the difference), language switch (have your main character learn another language and then include a translation (using google translator) of everything you’ve written).

Good Luck!

Flies, Mortality, Dorking Out, Writing, etc.

The other afternoon in Skyrim, as my housecarl Lydia and I delivered our mortal, respective steel-sword jabs and firebolts to the reanimated corpse of King Olaf One-Eye in his tomb, a fat fly, in real life, flew into my temple.

It’s late November. Although I do keep my south window open to air out the smoke from the cigarettes I smoke in my nonsmoking apartment unit, there’s otherwise no reason for flys’ presence in my apartment. Perhaps it’s the rotting ramen scum splattered on the dirty dishes in my sink that they’re attracted to. Yesterday, two small flies buzzed around my apartment. I gradually weakened them with bursts of Febreze – weakening the unclean with sterility, like casting healing spells on the undead. They either flew out my window or died somewhere inside, their corpses missing or stepped on, rubbed into my apartment’s thick, brown carpeting. Maybe the fat fly that 9/11ed into side of my head was their mother, and she was furious. Or maybe it was the reanimated corpse of my good friend Eric, who ODed on New Year’s Eve, 2004, and he was telling me something. Telling me that it’s not okay to have logged 35 hours into The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim after having owned it for a mere week.

I paused the game and stood up and reached for Edward P. Jones’ story collection, Lost in the City, but immediately felt guilty about using books to kill a fly, and left it on my bookshelf.  I chose, instead, a Spokane Values coupon brochure, settling on the practical newspaper-or-expendable-print-material-as-fly-bludgeon cliché. I chased the fly around my apartment, wearing my Oxford sweatpants, and the button-up shirt I’d worn the night before in an effort to “dress up” for a friend’s birthday, which she didn’t show up to, the shirt I slept in. The fly was sluggish and easy to whap, but without a surface, my swipes did very little, except cast the fly farther from my reach. When the fly buzzed over to my bookshelf and settled on In the Lake of the Woods by Tim O’Brien, I remembered the interview some fellow Barkers and I conducted last spring, the interview I’m supposed to be shaping, the interview I was so excited about having landed, the interview my Vietnam war historian father was so proud about my having landed. I remembered that I used to be in school, that I used to work hard, or at least was under the impression that I was working hard, when really my two years of grad school were little more than me hitting the snooze button on the alarm clock of life. I took a swipe and the coupon brochure slapped Alice Munro, Henry James, John McPhee, and Tim O’Brien, but it barely touched the fly, who buzzed away, and off into a corner.

What the hell am I doing with my life, I thought. I then pulled out my laptop and started writing.

Astrological Twins

Jim Hanas, author of Why They Cried, has a twin of sorts:

Hanas notes “The situation has not changed much since 2009. Mr. Slater has yet another TV show on death row, and a string of mediocre movies in the pipeline. I have an ebook-only short story collection out from a foreign publisher (Canadian, but still), and I need to churn out another book. Neither of us put any arrests on the board in the last year, so let’s call it a push.”

My astrological twin hasn’t found me yet. Does anyone else have one?

Thanksgiving is the time of year…

It's all fun and games until someone asks you how you plan to make money

…when writers need a support group.

Because today, as we eat turkey and watch football, none of us will be safe from that age-old question question: What are you gonna do with that MFA?

So when Uncle Jim or Aunt Samantha asks you how “that whole writing thing” is going, just remember, we at Bark are here for you.

Here’s the plan: save your mother some grief (she’s had to deal with enough already—what with you choosing to pursue writing and all); hold your tongue.

Feel free, instead, to post what you would have said to those nosy, good-for-nothing relatives below—no holds barred. Call it group therapy.

Because even writers deserve a little love and togetherness on Thanksgiving.

Ten Books I’m Thankful For

Shakespeare A to Z by Charles Boyce: This is the ultimate companion to every single Shakespeare play. Don’t understand a word? Need some insight into character? This book has it. It helped me so much during my years in the theater, making Shakespeare more accessible.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte: This book is like comfort food to me. It was on my thesis book list, and I kept feeling guilty as I reread it, like I wasn’t actually getting work done. As a kid, I loved to pretend I lived in nineteenth-century England, and Wuthering Heights brings back all that lovely make-believe.

Ellen Tebbits by Beverly Cleary: I read this book about six thousand times in elementary school, especially around third grade. Though I’d been writing stories since I could wield a pen, this was the book that really got me thinking about narrative, to the point where, when I was bored, I would narrate my life, pretending I was Ellen.

The Shadow Box by Michael Cristofer: I hadn’t heard of this play or author before I auditioned for it in the early ’00s, but after being cast as Agnes, it became quite dear to me. Of course it did: I didn’t just read it, I acted it. Not just that, but it was the first time I ever got reviewed, and it was a good one.

Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne: I can’t begin to count how many happy hours I’ve spent in the Hundred Acre Woods, and though I do own a Winnie the Pooh Christmas movie, I don’t mean watching it on TV. There’s something so gentle and sweet about Pooh and his friends that never fails to cheer me up and make me feel like a child again. Read more »

William Gibson and the Evolution of Craft

William Gibson

Sometimes it's not what the writer writes, but how that writing changes. (Photo credit: Michael O'Shea)

At a 2010 reading in Bristol, England, to promote his latest novel Zero History, author William Gibson talked about the appeal that speculative fiction has for many writers just getting started. As paraphrased by Cheryl Morgan, who covered the event, Gibson talked about how “young men tend to write books that feature things like zombie plagues and post-apocalyptic wastelands because they lack the experience of life to write well about people.”

Gibson should know. His body of work, which includes cyberpunk classics such as Neuromancer and Idoru, influenced an entire generation of young writers, myself included. At the same time, his later works, particularly the post-9/11 Blue Ant trilogy, display a more contemporary, literary bent. Reading these words from Gibson it becomes clear just how far he’s come as an author.

Read more »

The New York Times Seems to See the Worst In Me

Jill Abramson

In March there was much debate about whether people would begin subscribing to the New York Times since the newspaper began charging for previously free online access. I decided that I would finally make good and subscribe. One of the reasons I hadn’t yet was because the massive amount of paper involved in a daily newspaper subscription horrifies me. But with the new subscriptions, online-only access was going to be an option—the perfect option for me.

The weird thing is that I continued to be able to click on what seemed like unlimited articles each month. This is where the first of two embarrassing parts of this post comes in. After telling people, with pride, that I read the New York Times online, I discovered I had never read more than the 20 free articles in a month. I don’t suppose reading less than one article a day really counts as being a legitimate “reader” of a newspaper. Read more »

Keep Thanksgiving Weird

Who says turkey can't be sexy?

It’s that time of year again when we all gorge ourselves until we pass out, watch football, and awkwardly talk with relatives we see once or twice a year. So here are some links to be thankful for.

1) Martha Stewart makes mashed potatoes with Snoop Dogg.

2) How to make your turkey sexy.

3) Turkey carving lessons with Bill Cosby.

4) Smoked Beer Can Turkey? Yes, please.

5) Prefer cake instead of tryptophan? Try the Thanksgiving Dinner Cake!

6) Jones Holiday Soda in four seasonal flavors.

7) Need a little booze this holiday season? Try these cocktails.

8) Hate cooking? Now you can simply blow up a turkey!

9) Now your dogs don’t have to be left with left-overs or table scraps.

10) Unusual Thanksgiving recipes.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Back to high school

Yesterday, my class president announced the date for my ten-year high school reunion. The event is still more than eight months away, but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been thinking about it for some time.

What I miss about high school was, in many ways, the structure. Wake up, school, extra-curriculars, homework, bed—repeat for a total of five times. There were things we could do then that many of us have since lost: musical groups, sports practices, etc. For me, these things were band and, to a much larger extent, soccer. Our improvement in these activities was structured: time was scheduled for improvement. Now, we have to find that time ourselves, and we have become our own conductors and coaches.

What I don’t miss—what I think many people don’t miss—is the various personal and social aspects contained in the pre-college years. I don’t miss the social groups (though I found that they are just as present in college, and even graduate school, which makes me think we’ll never truly escape high school—or middle school). I don’t miss pressure put on you to be a certain something in others’ eyes, be it your friends or your classmates or your teachers or your friends or or or… Read more »

365 Thank Yous

Instead of bruising myself over what I could have done different in the past
rocking in the corner of a room worrying about how I will handle my future
I choose to be thankful. Right now.

Or, at least, this is what I try to tell myself at least 5 times a day. Prone to anxieties and slumps of self-questioning, I try pretty damn hard to stay positive and grateful. I could fill my bathtub with studies & articles I’ve read with titles like “The Power of Gratitude” or “Being Thankful For Air” etc etc
And you know what? It sometimes works.
If I slow my ass down, force myself to write down at least four things I’m genuinely grateful for in my current life, I end up feeling healthier.

So, in the spirit of Thanksgiving, I’m sharing today’s list with you:

1) I am thankful for Tobias Gundorff Boesen’s stop-motion animation, “Out of a Forest.” I happened across it few days ago. It is strikingly beautiful. The moon is all over the place. It was shot in a forest in Denmark. The National is the soundtrack. And it was inspired by victorian literature.
Few things have revved me up to write some poetry more than this little video. Watch. Full-screen it for optimum beauty:

[vimeo] [/vimeo] Read more »

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